Karnataka HC
Karnataka HC
Litigation News

Social Media has created divide based on communal identification of a group amid COVID-19: Karnataka HC observes in bail order

The observation was made while granting bail to two men arrested on accusations that they had sold watermelons which had fallen into a drain with an intention to endanger public health.

Rintu Mariam Biju

The Karnataka High Court recently made pertinent observations on the communal divide created through social media amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while granting bail to two men arrested on accusations that they had sold watermelons which had fallen into a drain with an intention to endanger public health.

While allowing the bail pleas, Justice R Devdas proceeded took note of the negative effect of social media in instilling panic in the minds of people amid the COVID-19 crisis.

"No doubt that the pandemic COVID19 situation has set alarm bells ringing not only in our country but the entire world over. Nevertheless, this Court is of the opinion that the social media has created a panic situation where a social divide is being brought in the minds of the general public on the basis of the communal identification of a group of persons."

Karnataka High Court

The two persons, Rihan and Shahbaz, were arrested on the basis of a viral video where they were stated to have been seen picking up watermelons from a drain and selling them to the general public.

Consequently, they were booked under Sections 270 (spreading infection of diseases danger­ous to life) and 328 (causing hurt by means of poison, etc., with intent to commit an offence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

After their bail applications were rejected by the Sessions Court, they approached the High Court under Section 439 of the CrPC.

The counsel for the petitioners submitted that even assuming that the petitioners had picked up the watermelons from a drain and sold them to the general public, Section 328 of the IPC would still not apply as the petitioners had no intent to cause any hurt or harm.

Section 328 of IPC provides that if a person administers or causes another person to take any poison or any stupefying, intoxicating or unwholesome drug, with intent to cause hurt to such person or with intent to commit or to facilitate the commission of an offence or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause hurt, he or she is guilty of the offence. This is not applicable to the present case, it was argued

Countering these submissions, the government pleader contended that Section 328 of IPC also contains the usage “other things,” Therefore, it cannot be said that the invocation of the said provision under the circumstances could not be justified, it was stated.

After hearing the rival contentions, the Court found substance in the petitioners' arguments. It was noted that there was no stagnant water or running drainage water in the drain from which the watermelons were stated to have fallen.

While this is the case, the Court took critical note that, an impression was created, nevertheless, "as if the petitioners have wantonly dipped the watermelons in the drain water and put up the same for sale to the general public."

The Court also took into account that the petitioners had admitted that they were the two persons seen in the video clipping. However, they had denied to have indulged in any offence or activity which would cause any danger either to themselves or to the public to whom the water melons were being.

Keeping this in mind, the Court went on to observe that Section 328 of IPC does not appear to be applicable in the present case.

"On the face of the material available on record, it cannot be said that the provision of Section 328 could be attracted in the present facts and circumstances of this case."

Karnataka High Court

The other offence charged under Section 270, IPC was a bailable offence, the judge noted.

With these observations, the Court allowed the bail applications on the following conditions:

  • The petitioners should furnish a personal bond for a sum of Rs.50,000 each with one surety for the like sum.

  • The petitioners shall not in any manner tamper with the prosecution witnesses.

  • The petitioners shall appear before the Investigation Officer as and when called for.

  • The petitioners shall mark their attendance before the jurisdictional police once every 15 days.

Before parting with the order, the Court emphasised that it has not gone into the alleged intent of the petitioners, and that the accusations levelled would have to be tested at trial.

"This is not a stage where this Court could go into the details or test the veracity of the alleged intent of the petitioners. The matter requires a trial and only at that stage, the truth of the allegation could be tested. While dealing with the bail application filed by the petitioners, this Court is required to find out as to whether on the basis of the information received by the Police, the provisions of IPC are attracted or made out", reads the order.

The observations made in the bail order should not prejudice the prosecution's case in trial, the Court added.

Read the order:

Social media influence - Kar HC.pdf
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